Honestly, I’m not even sure how to start this post. I am very proud to be Jewish. I feel this way knowing if I were born into another faith I would be very proud to be Muslim, Christian, Mennonite, or [INSERT ANY FAITH] too. I was born into a Jewish family, so this is what I identify with. However, I know we are all a part of humanity and every human being deserves love, kindness, and respect.
As the granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors, I grew up being incredibly cognizant of the Holocaust and how my family was impacted. Being concerned for my children’s safety because we are Jewish never crossed my mind until last year’s Presidential election. Fast forward to present day and bomb threats are happening at Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) across the country. This makes me scared, and I don’t scare easily. Moreover, how do I keep my children safe while fostering their Jewish identity? Is being Jewish putting them in harm’s way?
The scene: January 2017, early evening in a strip mall parking lot
My oldest daughter and I are walking on the sidewalk of a strip mall, in the dark, to find a bathroom. I see a bearded man in a black hoodie walking towards me and my daughter. The parking lot is otherwise completely deserted. This man does not look like someone I would have a friendly chitchat with while waiting in line somewhere. It is just the three of us and my Spidey sense immediately goes on HIGH ALERT.
As we continue to walk in the same direction, I try to recall every self-defense video or training I have seen. I remember to be super confident because predators are less likely to attack if they know you won’t be quiet. I straighten up, squeeze my daughter’s hand tighter, and walk confidently. It’s like I am stomping the pavement, and I and puff my chest out like a gorilla getting ready to attack. Additionally, I make intense eye contact with black hoodie man the whole time.
I think he clearly senses my “Don’t f*ck with me” vibe and puts his hands up in the air, as if I’m the one preparing to hold him up with a weapon. Even though we are still far away from one another, he continues to keep his hands high in the air. It’s like he is silently saying, “I’m not going to harm you or your daughter.”
Once we are close enough he says, “Hello Ma’am, I hope you had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” I reply back, “Thank you. You too” and I think our interaction is completely over. Phew.
And my five-year-old loudly pronounces, “Doesn’t he know we don’t celebrate Christmas?! We’re Jewish!”
Oy vey kid, this is not the time to have a life lesson on religious diversity, we have to get moving! I tell my daughter, “A lot of people don’t know we celebrate Hannukah. He’s saying Merry Christmas to be polite. It’s OK.”
This interchange has really stayed with me because it was a moment to balance being proud of our Jewish identify, but also being safe.
Being safe clearly trumped (interesting choice of word there) having a conversation with the man and explaining we celebrate Hanukkah and not Christmas.
Still, I felt like I made a parenting misstep. Should I have done something differently? Did I squelch my daughter’s Jewish identify by downplaying the difference in religion?
In a later conversation with my hubby I shared my concerns about fostering our children’s Jewish identity, but still keeping them safe.
He poignantly noted, “Is this their issue, or your issue? Clearly our daughter proudly identifies as Jewish because she stated she celebrates Hanukkah. I don’t think you have anything to worry about there. And you did the right thing because being safe is more important in that scenario. Also, if that man was going to attack you, it was regardless of our religion. He wasn’t looking for a hate crime. When it comes to our kids, there will be another time and place to explain different religions.”
Oooooh, so my super rational and logical husband pointed out the obvious which was staring me in the face?!
I don’t need to worry about my daughter being proud of her Jewish identity.
She already knows she’s Jewish and likes it. Clearly, this is my issue and something I need to work on internally. Meanwhile, I wish the world would realize it doesn’t matter what faith or color you are born with, we’re all in this together.